Life, rest, running

Stopping to Start (and also, Starting to Stop)

Today, I went on my first run in 3 and a half months.

It was difficult and wonderful.

You see, I used actually be one of those people—those runners who you see trotting around the park in the wee hours of the morning. I ran my first ever 5k one August about 3 years ago, after I decided one day I would just start running. I made a plan back when I couldn’t run for more than 30 seconds without cramping and wanting to die. I stuck with it and became addicted to it. I loved ease of just lacing up your shoes and going under your own power wherever you want to go. I loved being able to run along the water just as the sun rises. I loved curating my own playlists to fuel those longer jaunts into the city. I was hooked.

Before I knew it, I had run multiple 5ks, two 10-milers, and two half-marathons. (and overslept and missed one of them…another story for another day). I even got the (somewhat snooty) 13.1 magnet for my car.

But life happens. I got some injuries. Our family routine changed with the entrance of a foster child (this is an understatement…our world was rocked!). School became more consuming. And over Easter weekend this year, I somehow hurt my back so badly that I couldn’t stand much less stand up straight. I was in bed for days. Went to a chiropractor for the first time in my life. And have been on a routine of therapy, adjustments, and exercises since then. It’s been a VERY frustrating thing to feel more physically limited than I can ever remember being.

But, my body was trying to tell me something for awhile. I could feel the tension increasing, I knew I wasn’t eating well or sleeping enough. My body was trying to simply say: you need to stop. Cease. Rest. Slow down. Care for me! Eat something green.

But I didn’t listen. More to the point, I didn’t stop to pay attention. There was too much noise and too much to be done for me to even hear. I couldn’t stop, except for those evenings where my wife and I would simply collapse on the couch after the bedtime routine and visit our friends in streaming entertainment-land.

But this last Friday, against many (internal) convincing arguments, I chose to stop. I ceased. I rested. I sat outside and drank coffee. I read a book that would fill my soul, not simply engage my mind. For the first time in awhile, I aligned my inner life with what my body had been telling me for the last 3 months: you need to stop, to rest, and to tend to our needs!

I took time, before time could be taken from me (again).

Walter Brueggemann, in his book “Sabbath as Resistance” says this:
“We used to sing the hymn “Take Time to Be Holy.” But perhaps we should be singing, “Take time to be human.” Or finally, “Take time.” Sabbath is taking time … time to be holy … time to be human.”

Friday was about me stopping so I can start again, taking time to be human and come face to face with my own frailties, my limits, my failings, my feelings—simply to come face to face with who I really am. It is why I felt enough energy to get up this morning and attempt a run at all, as I was way more in tune with my body and mind. And more so, today is about starting from stopping, because I have started stopping again. 🙂

This is foundational to the idea of sabbath rest (and something I have forgotten and rarely applied well): we do not work for rest, we work from rest. I feel like I felt this for the first time in a long time this morning. Rest had done its work while I had not worked at all.

So, here’s to stopping and to starting again…and to not stop stopping.


Life, Musings, Relationships, women

When Guys Don’t Notice You

There is a certain genre of writing/approach within the American Christian world that is semi-obsessed with marriage/relationships/purity/etc. Blogs abound and advice poureth over toward single folks, particularly single women, concerning how to remedy their unfortunate, single state. Most often, the content comes from blissfully married (finally un-single?) men and women. I do believe those who write these blogs and books are often well-intentioned and want others to experience what, for them, is a cherished gift (as it should be). However, the common threads found through much of their exhortation include thinly-veiled shame, a blind resignation to the mysterious will of God, and an often not-so-subtle patriarchy-infused logic.
An article of the same name as this one has recently been circulating that does much of this same work. It stirred up so much in me reading it, and many others, I discovered. I quickly realized it was not, in fact, satire as I saw my dear sisters be hurt, yet again. They were subjected to an argument that goes something like this: dress nicer and guys will notice you. While this article, like many others, have the obligatory, yet passing, references to things like “inner beauty” and being the “real you,” the core message rings clear in the minds of so many readers: I am not enough and my “enough-ness” is connected to whether or not a guy notices me and /acknowledges my beauty.
My dear female friends: you do not need men to notice you or tell you that you are beautiful, nor do we get to define what that even means.
There is so much to go into here, but I want to address the other side. Many have commented that such articles rarely address men. The burden is placed on women to doll-up so that guys’ hearts will start to beat faster and get all hot and bothered. This is not ok.
But, there is a strange truth in all this. Women, us men don’t notice you. And, my dear sisters, it is not because you need a teen movie-style make over or more rouge: it has way more to do with us. I dare not point a finger at you for what is, at a basic level, a problem that we have at noticing what is good and wonderful.
We don’t notice you because we are often caught up in our own worlds of fear, brokenness, anxiety, competition, and loneliness. Though we won’t admit it, or don’t know how to.
We have been breathing the air of a male-dominated society for so long, that we can’t name it. We have been conditioned not to notice you unless you offer something to us: pleasure, advancement, codependence, money, status, or power.
We have been conditioned by the “male gaze” to commodify you before we even meet you. We have fallen victim to similar lies that tell us we are not men unless we conquer you sexually, which manifests both in rape culture and in purity culture. We have come to believe that your bodies are ours to uncover as “earned” or to demand to be covered for “modesty” so we don’t “stumble”. In both cases, you are subjected to bear the weight of our own rampant sexuality and lack of self-control.
We are deeply insecure about our worth. We are afraid of failing because so much around us has told us we are not made for failure, but rather for greatness. We are threatened by your aptitude, your successes, and your accomplishments. We are so threatened because we think that these very things (success, accomplishments) are what make us and our lack of them unmake us. So we often don’t notice you, because to do so would mean to come face to face with our own lack, our own fears, our own issues.
This goes far beyond romantic interest. This is a core Sin at work from the beginning that takes the gift of blessed partnership, mutual submission, and community and twists into blaming, shaming, and disconnection.
According to the origin stories of the Hebrew Scriptures, the First Man in the Garden of Eden could look at the newly crafted Woman and burst into song and poetry, naming his deep kinship to her (bone of my bones) and calling her his mighty Helper (ezer: a term used of God, who helps the helpless!). Today, rather than looking to this an an example and original intention for our relatedness, we choose to live under what follows. After the entrance of sin, the response is one of shame and hiding, blaming women for our misdeeds and even blaming God for putting us together in the first place. God have mercy.We do not notice you because we are still hiding, attempting awkwardly to cover our shame.
We don’t notice how amazing you are, and it is a deep tragedy, because we are missing out on the very work of God around us. We are missing out on the ways in which we can learn to depend upon one another by being vulnerable, by celebrating all that God is doing in you, by admitting that, in fact, we need help (and Helpers) in all areas of our lives, not simply in a wife. And this is, again, to say that women need our “noticing”. Many of you are quite happy, thank you very much, in not being married or paired up. You have thriving careers, passions, and relationships. And the problem of not being noticed is, yet again, a loss for us men…a failure to see the work of God in you and your key part in it because of our own issues or our limited framework.
So, to my male friends, I invite you to hear the words and heed the example of your amazing, fierce, and powerful sisters. So many of them are killin’ it as they work way harder than any of us have had to because, well, they have to in order to get ahead. Celebrate the hell out of them. NOTICE them for who they are, not who you think they should be, because who they are is way better than you could imagine.
And to my female friends, know this: I am for you and I need your help. And I will never let other men get away with telling you how you need to be in order to be “noticed”.
Baltimore, church, Life, Musings, Neighborhood

An Important Life Update and Transition

[Greetings, all. I have communicated the below information to my congregation, colleagues, and some friends. However, I realized that it may be beneficial to share this in a more broad manner to those with whom I’ve connected through ministry, neighborhood life, friendship, and the many other ways our life paths cross. The quick version is this: I’m stepping down from my position as neighborhood pastor at Gallery Church Patterson Park to enter a time of preparation and focus for what may be next.]

[One thing I’ve realized is that there are far too many ways to communicate, and it is impossible to engage these media without having some of you be inevitably left out. I sincerely apologize if you are one of the ones who feel left out. If nothing else, it may just indicate that we need to connect in other ways!]

So, what follows is the letter I wrote to my congregation. Feel free to reach out to me with questions. If you are the praying type, I would appreciate your prayers as we step into a new season of life.

Dearest Gallery Church Family:

After much prayer, consideration, wrestling, and discernment—and with the blessing of other leaders, elders, and my wife, Kara—I am resigning as the neighborhood pastor of Gallery Church Patterson Park. I share this news with a sad and heavy heart and with a hopeful expectation for the future.

Almost nine years ago, at Pastor Ellis and Ginger Prince’s invitation, I moved to Baltimore with a handful of other people to help start the Gallery Church. We believed that a small group of people, with love in their hearts for God and their neighbors-to-be, could see real change happen in our neighborhoods. I still believe it, and what is more, I have seen it. Our God has been at work in his people in our city.

Since then, I have had the opportunity and responsibility to serve our church and city in so many ways. I am amazed and humbled as I think of those with whom I have had the privilege of serving. I cannot adequately state how much I have learned in my time serving with Gallery Church. I have been changed profoundly during my time here. I discerned a call to vocational/pastoral ministry here and have truly grown up here, spending almost a third of my life in ministry with Gallery. This church has taught me what it can mean and look like to walk together in challenging and joyful times.

And now, this journey continues for me. In transitioning from this position, Kara and I are taking a step of trust with the Lord. We do not have another church job lined-up. We are not planning on moving, but we are going to be entering a time of preparation. I will be investing some more time in my schooling to finish my degrees. I will continue to work part-time with HopeSprings, and I will be taking time to re-discover and seek clarity in my identity and calling. We sense that this is a necessary and important time for whatever lies ahead. What form that calling/vocation may take in the future, we are unsure, but we have a strong and enduring peace about taking this step, knowing full well it will be difficult and challenging for us and others.

Let me help to speak to a few questions or thoughts that you or others may be having. Many pastors tend to resign in the midst of controversy, that is not the case here. I want to be as clear as I can here: I have not had any sort of moral failure which would disqualify me from ministry. Kara and I are doing well in our marriage, growing in our love for each other and the Lord, and are united in this decision.

Additionally, there are not any secret or unsaid reasons for my resignation. In times like this, rumors can abound and certain “gaps” in the information can be filled in with gossip or speculation. There is not any enmity between me, or any of the leaders or staff in our Gallery Church Family. I have been challenged and blessed by the diversity of our staff team and by those with whom we have labored in our city. I love them, believe in them, and no difference of opinion or issue has contributed to this decision. I believe in what God is doing at Gallery and in our city, and I pray for God’s greatness to be continually displayed in our church family.

Lastly, some of you may be wondering if we will still be “around”—meaning, attending at Gallery Church in the coming months. We have no desire to “cut-ties” with Gallery. We still view you all as dear sisters and brothers and neighbors, so you will see us from time to time. Pastor Ellis has been very gracious and kind to continue to offer times for me to be with you, and to use my gifts when appropriate. We will be taking a few months to seek continued counsel, to worship with other faith communities in our region, and to pray through our family’s rhythms of life. We also feel that some initial “distance” will be the best way to love our Patterson Park family as they collectively discern what God is doing next. My last Sunday serving as the neighborhood pastor at Gallery Patterson Park will be January 15th, 2017.

Gallery Church Patterson Park has a unique and specific calling to uncover and run after. I truly believe that, and I believe God is already at work to provide for this next season. One of the benefits of belonging to a wider church family is that we have sisters and brothers who can support and walk with you in this time of transition. Jayme Swanson (our neighborhood elder), Pastor Bill Medina (our Associate Pastor), Aida Medina (Cross-Cultural Ministries), and Pastor Ellis will be working together with other key leaders at Patterson Park, and our Central Ministries team to help lead and serve the church in this next season. They will be ensuring that our gatherings and growth community life continue on with care and oversight.

So here is what I will ask you to consider doing in the coming days:
Pray— I know this sounds like the thing you are supposed to always say, but I could not be more emphatic. God has desires for Gallery Church Patterson Park that he wants to make known. There will be an upcoming time of Prayer and Fasting with Gallery Church Downtown from Jan 17-21 each evening. I encourage you to take time as a church family or as a growth community to come and to pray for Patterson Park and what’s next.
Invest— It is in times like this where the members of the church can sometimes sit back and wait to see what will happen. I encourage you to take this as a season of investment, both financially and spiritually. Please continue to give faithfully and sacrificially. Please take the time to get involved in serving. This is your time to be the church you hope to see.
Ask— Times like this can bring up questions and sometimes confusion. It’s more than ok to ask questions. I cannot promise we have an answer to every question, but we will listen and be available as much as possible until we transition in January.

This letter is not easy to write. Kara and I have felt grief and sadness as we have struggled with this decision, and we have wrestled with how to love you best during this time. I love you all and I am so thankful to have had the privilege to serve as your pastor over these last years.

May God’s Grace and Peace be with you,

Derek H. Miller
Advent, 2016

Life, Musings, Neighborhood, Rooted

Putting Down Roots

It has been far too long since I have taken the time to write here, but I feel like I am headed back into a season of writing. Usually this happens for two reasons: 1) I have a lot to process and 2) the weather will soon be getting cooler. There is something about writing in the fall and winter that I just love.

Anyway, one of the largest developments in Kara and I’s life has been moving into our new place as first-time home buyers! We have now planted ourselves more firmly in the Highlandtown neighborhood after renting here for about two years. This is the physical evidence of a lot of struggle, prayer, joy, and trust. As with most big life changes, there is often much going on beneath the surface.

We have both become convinced that being fully invested in a focused area is the way we can come to see things be renewed and restored. And by renewed, we don’t mean the other negative baggage that can come along with that word (gentrified, suburbanized, etc.). We just really want to see all relationships restored: those with each other, with the land, and with God. And we know we must be a part of that.

Secondly, our church family has found a more permanent home in the former Patterson Park Baptist Church building on Eastern Avenue. To make a long and wonderful story very short, the 100-year old church voted to give their buildings to us to continue on the legacy of kingdom work in our neighborhood. While buildings are not necessary for the church to be the church, it does communicate something very real: we are really and truly here. And there is something to be said for that (actually a lot of things to be said, in a later post).

These are two of the huge developments that cause us to see that we are being called to put down roots here in the nighborhood and just seek the wellness of those around us. I think Jesus wants us to take the “love thy neighbor” thing seriously and literally. So, here we are.

What do you think about where you live? Do you feel rooted, uprooted, awkward, scared…? I would love to know your thoughts, so feel free to comment below.